HAMILTON – A black bear cub that was orphaned and severely burned by a wildfire in central Idaho was rescued over the weekend by state employees and wildland firefighters near the Salmon River and is being nursed back to health, although its recovery is still very much in doubt.
A fisherman on the Salmon River first spotted the cub Saturday in an area burned by the 145,844-acre Mustang Complex fire near a popular raft put-in.
The fisherman told U.S. Forest Service river compliance monitors Dan Blanchard and Emily Atlas that the bear was alone and in a large Douglas fir tree. The pair went to check on the bear because it was near a river trail, and found that its paws were blistered with second-degree burns. A nearby California-based fire crew, the Whiskey Flats Wildfire Use Module from the Sequoia National Forest, looked unsuccessfully for the cub’s mother.
“The fire had been creeping through that area throughout the last week, so we’re not sure exactly when the cub was orphaned,” said Karen Dunlap, forest environment coordinator for the Salmon-Challis National Forest. “The mother was nowhere to be found.“
Atlas then contacted Justin Williams, a conservation officer with Idaho Fish and Game, about the bear. Williams estimated the cub weighed between 20 and 25 pounds and had not eaten in four to five days.
“When you have a 150,000-acre fire, there’s bound to be wildlife interaction,” Williams said.
By then, the concerned caretakers had named the cub “Boo Boo” and decided they weren’t going to abandon it.
Given the bear’s weakened condition, Atlas, Williams and another firefighter captured it and placed it in the hands of Chris Gaughan, a regional wildlife biologist with Idaho Fish and Game in Salmon.
Gaughan brought the cub to Mark Drew, the state veterinarian, for an examination at the Boise National Forest’s Garden Valley Ranger Station. Because the injuries to the cub’s feet were severe enough that it might not survive in the wild, Drew decided to transport the cub Tuesday to the Snowdon Wildlife Sanctuary near McCall for rehabilitation, which specializes in the care and rehabilitation of injured and orphaned wildlife. However due to the seriousness of the cub’s burns, the nonprofit center was unable to provide adequate care for the bear.
“The little guy is burned pretty bad,” said Evin Oneale, the southwest region conservation educator for Idaho Fish and Game. “The Snowdon facility isn’t set up for an animals with burns that bad. So Dr. Drew is driving him back to the Caldwell facility and is making phone calls to the Boise area and outlying facilities to see if he can find anyone who can give him the kind of care he needs. It’s kind of a sad story right now, but hopefully it has a happy ending.”
A smaller black bear cub that was found abandoned near Idaho Falls also is headed to Snowdon, Dunlap said.